Thursday 23 May 2019

Demo at doors of dorchester

Campaigners take protests at Brunei's death penalty for gay sex to Sultan's top hotel - and urge severing ties with the oppressive nation, writes Joe Gammie

A VOICE TO BE HEARD: Human-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell addresses placard-waving protesters outside The Dorchester in Park Lane, London, yesterday in a noisy response to Brunei’s new hardline stance against gay sex, which can include brutal death by stoning. Photo: Sophie Hogan, PA
A VOICE TO BE HEARD: Human-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell addresses placard-waving protesters outside The Dorchester in Park Lane, London, yesterday in a noisy response to Brunei’s new hardline stance against gay sex, which can include brutal death by stoning. Photo: Sophie Hogan, PA

Joe Gammie

The crowd surged through barriers outside The Dorchester and took their protest against Brunei's anti-LGBT laws to the front doors of the luxury London hotel.

More than 100 people, many bearing rainbow flags, banners and placards, chanted "Shame on you" outside the Park Lane hotel.

The protest follows the growing movement against hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei in response to new national Islamic criminal laws punishing gay sex by stoning offenders to death.

Signs called for homophobia to be stamped out while many people held placards saying "LGBT+ lives matter".

Messages were scrawled in chalk on the pavement alongside piles of rainbow-coloured stones, a reference to the punishment of stoning offenders to death.

One man climbed up to hang a rainbow flag from the building.

Police stood in front of the doors, blocking the noisy crowd from getting too close.

The protest initially surrounded the front of the hotel, with barriers set up around the small car park.

But the crowds suddenly surged through the cordons, into the car park and up to the main doors.

Human-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell told the crowd that if the Sultan did not revoke the laws the British government should sever all ties with the regime.

He added: "If the Sultan will not listen to reason and compassion we believe the British government should sever all diplomatic, economic and military ties with the regime.

"What is shameful is that our royal family puts royal ties before human rights.

"The Queen has said today the royal family will not sever ties with the Sultan." His announcement was met with cries of "shame" from the crowd.

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry told the gathering that if the laws were not revoked, Brunei should be "chucked out" of the Commonwealth.

She added: "Any hatred against anyone is hatred against all of us.

"Our fight is with the Sultan of Brunei. Our fight is with this terrible law. We say no."

The new laws in the south-east Asian country came into effect on April 3 amid an international outcry.

Under the law - which applies to children and foreigners, even if they are not Muslim - those found guilty of gay sex could be stoned to death or whipped.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah instituted the code in 2014 to bolster the influence of Islam in the oil-rich monarchy of around 430,000 people, two-thirds of whom are Muslim.

Even before 2014, homosexuality was already punishable in Brunei by a jail term of up to 10 years.

Ahead of the demonstration, the University of Oxford said it would reconsider its decision to award an honorary degree to the Sultan.

In a statement yesterday, the university said it shared the "international revulsion" of the laws and that the decision to confer the honorary degree of civil law by diploma to Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah in 1993 would be reconsidered through its "established process".

But it stressed no one had the right "summarily to rescind it" and added: "We also believe in due process. Just as nobody has a right to confer an honorary degree, nobody has a right summarily to rescind it.

"The decision to confer this degree 26 years ago was recommended by a committee and approved by council and by congregation at the time.

"We will reconsider this decision through our established process in light of the information now available, as other British universities are doing."

Sir Elton John and George Clooney are among stars who have spoken out against the laws, demanding a boycott of the hotels owned by the Sultan.

The Brunei Investment Agency, through the Dorchester Collection, owns London's The Dorchester and 45 Park Lane, as well as Coworth Park in Ascot, Berkshire.

Also in its portfolio of hotels, among the world's most exclusive, are two of Hollywood's best-known establishments, The Bel Air and The Beverly Hills.

Sunday Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News